Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Real Thing

The pampered stars of the Premiership may still be returning to match fitness, but the considerably more exciting prospect of the Football League begins as soon as next weekend.

As a betting man, albeit one whose natural urges are curtailed by America's puritanical obsession with gambling, I can only look on in wonder at the veritable bookmaker's rat's nest that is the Coca-Cola Championship. I can make a reasonable case that up to 13 of the teams involved might reasonably be in promotion contention (outright that is, not just via the play-offs). The bookies have settled on local rivals Birmingham and WBA as early favourites, but with 6-1 widely available, it is hardly a ringing endorsement. The Premiership meanwhile is in such a sorry state that you can get odds of 2/1 on Chelsea not winning the title again.

For those that prefer to express their views via spread bets on points totals, Sporting Index have Birmingham as favourites at spread midpoint of 77, with Colchester expected to finish bottom with 46. However it is highly likely that whoever does win the Championship will accumulate considerably more than 77 points (five teams managed it in 2005/06) whilst the bottom-placed side will likely manage considerably fewer than 46 (it would have been enough for survival last time). In short, there is considerable scope for profiting from taking an opposing view to the bookie, an option that in my view does not exist in the Premiership.

For what it's worth I think Southampton represent outstanding value at 10/1 with their boardroom wrangles ended, an excellent manager in charge and some momentum from five wins from six games to end last season. I wouldn't touch Sunderland at 9/1 with a bargepole, but might be tempted by an each-way bet on Mick McCarthy's Wolves at 20/1, likewise Hull at a handsome 66/1. Meanwhile John Hartson will no doubt score bags of goals for WBA who will be strong if they hold on to Curtis Davies and Tomasz Kuszczak, but I think the odds reflect this to a degree and backers may get unstuck by the January transfer window.

Indeed, reading through the extensive pre-season review in this morning's Sunday Times, part of me had some unusual pangs of regret that we now find ourselves fairly well established in the overhyped and far less interesting Premiership. If we find ourselves relegated this season (and if we're honest, Mills, Murray et al might have just 32 days to find the midfield to prevent it), then there will be a few bright spots at least. Eight more matches for a start, the chance to attend some stadia with character again, and the possibility that we might see some attacking football, with the players and the Board that employs them no longer hamstrung with fear.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Writers Block

For the first time since I launched this blog two years ago, I've been suffering from an acute case of writer's block. I simply can't think of anything interesting to comment upon, but am aware that the key to a successful blog is regular updates.

During these quiet news periods, I've usually been able to summon up some inspiration from events in New York, but the most exciting news story in recent days has been the blackout in Queens following last week's thunderstorms. Hardly a good topic for insightful analysis and thought-provoking argument.

Despite numerous rumours to the contrary (Diao, Faye, Sidwell etc..) we are seemingly still no nearer finding the central midfielder we so desperately need. Frankly we need at least two in my view if we are going to stand much chance of avoiding a relegation battle. The possibility of us going to Upton Park on Aug 19 with our central midfield options limited to Holland (nice guy, but useless), Hughes (useless), Kishishev (tries hard but basically useless) and Euell (can't trap a bag of cement, hence useless) is too horrific to contemplate.

Reassuringly perhaps, a quick look at our likely midtable rivals suggests we are not the only ones either struggling with a lack of cash or more likely, unrealistic wage demands and transfer fees. Wigan have chopped and changed, Everton have spent some cash, whilst Portsmouth claim to have plenty of it (but haven't really spent it). But a quick look at the squads of the likes of Villa, Man City, Middlesbrough and Fulham for example at least suggests that if we do indeed have a relegation battle, we could well be in good company. Moreover, whilst it may be premature to write off the promoted sides after Wigan and West Ham's performances last season, they do look set to struggle barring some incredible value added from their admittedly impressive trio of managers.

A quick look at the opening points spreads offered by Sporting Index makes for depressing reading. Predictably the big four are expected to get at least 75 points, Tottenham are expected to finish 5th comfortably again, and then the remaining dozen non-promoted teams are separated by just ten points from Newcastle (51.5-53) to Charlton (41.5-43). The 'most exciting League in the world' it may be, but competitive it ain't.

So with no new signings since the free-scoring JFH, and with the smartest bookies predicting us to finish 17th, we need something to put a smile back on our faces and who better than former Charlton legend Chris Powell? When you're feeling down after a defeat next season, just save a copy of the above photo somewhere handy, view it over and over again and smile.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Here We Go Again

The temperature may be 'hotter than Rio' (as one tabloid suggested, despite it being in the Southern Hemisphere) and the headlines may be more about Freddie Flintoff than Freddie Ljungberg, but the Dowie era truly began today in earnest.

Poetically, my new replica shirt also arrived this morning, a neat act of timing that aroused a prior lack of interest in the Millwall fixture. The shirt looks pretty good, and it seems I won the ordering-clothes-on-line lottery with regard to sizes. The printing of the Llanera logo looks a bit cheap however and the dull white/pink lettering clashes with the bright white epaulets. Still, what do you want for £39.99?

I've been guilty of attending more friendlies in my time than is healthy for an otherwise fairly balanced individual, with promises of 'never again' swiftly forgotten the following year after two months of watching cricket have taken their toll. Last season I managed to attend the QPR and Watford friendlies, and in the case of the latter I wrote that they were , "...a slightly sorry mix of youngsters, ageing pros, cheap foreign imports..." which proves just how pointless the whole exercise is.

For me, the concept of a 'friendly' is surely anathema to the whole raison d'etre of sport. Some club Chairmen may bemoan how much is at stake in today's modern game, but it certainly focuses the mind and provides the tension that all sports thrive upon.

It's perhaps a tribute to football's enduring appeal and the fanaticism it engenders that tens of thousands of people across the country turn up for these fixtures. Over here in the US, the baseball equivalent of pre-season friendlies is 'spring training', a cold-weather enduced series of training matches held at atmospheric minor league stadia from Florida to Arizona. The fact that there are just thirty major-league teams in such a vast country ensures (and explains why) there are always enough baseball-starved towns and cities to attract good crowds. What is notably different however in the UK is that teams never play their true rivals as they do in the US, but instead organise friendlies against opposition from different leagues or countries.

Having said all of that, if I was living in London, I suspect that, like the sad loser that I am, the thought of seeing Jimmy-Floyd in a Charlton shirt might have drawn me to the New Den yesterday too, and it was good to learn he wasted little time in endearing himself to the Addick faithful. It would have been nice to have witnessed the early promise of a Hasslebaink/Bent partnership, but equally I found it awfully sweet that in this modern footballing era of WAGs, celebrity weddings and hotel roastings, that Darren Bent still makes his own sandwiches.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I keep having this recurring nightmare about our central midfield, but I will sleep easier tonight knowing that Darren Bent will be leading the line again next season. Ever the diplomat, he even suggested there would be some doubt who might be partnering him up front, "I'm really looking forward to the new season. Whoever I'm playing with up front - Jimmy-Floyd, Marcus Bent or Kevin Lisbie - I just can't wait to get underway."

A large part of my job involves judging people's characters, often based upon just a few minutes of interaction (and no, I'm not a perennial speed-dater). And pleasingly, it's pretty obvious to me that our most valuable asset comes across as an intelligent, modest and all-round good egg. Danny Murphy aside, we have a good record of buying players who appreciate they are not bigger than the club, and it's reassuring to know that we signed another last summer.

It's also a good career move for him - had he joined Spurs for example, he'd have faced competition from Defoe, Keane, and Berbatov. At Charlton, he'll hopefully partner JFH, and then face competition from, erm....Marcus Bent and Kevin Lisbie (as he helpfully pointed out). Whether or not he will be a Charlton player in four years time is a moot point, but it shows some ambition and will improve our bargaining position should he continue to find the net on a regular basis.

As Charlton fans, we're used to the idea that our best players eventually move on. It's not unreasonable to ask however that they do so on the club's terms, not theirs. If Bent continues to improve and moves to a bigger club, then we should remember his humility today and wish him the best. Reassuringly, the two players whose selfish actions most rankle from recent seasons (the aforementioned Murphy and Scott Parker) have seen their careers amount to virtually nil since their move.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

With New York and London set for record temperatures today, it seemed an appropriate time to see An Inconvenient Truth the docu-film about global warming, narrated by Al Gore (former next President of the United States).

Any friends of mine reading this will know I'm no natural environmentalist (and moreover, the science of global warming is enough to baffle me) but Gore's balanced and straightforward explanation of the implications of global warming is enough to focus the mind.

I was perhaps most affected by the 'unintended consequences' of the global warming phenomenon, from tropical diseases turning up in less-than-tropical places, to Africa getting even drier (the last thing the blighted continent needs) whilst most of the rest of the globe gets wetter. The long-term prospect meanwhile of the ice caps melting and turning Luton into a seaside resort (and The Valley into a popular scuba diving spot) may be a gift we will be passing on to future generations.

Cynics may be able to dismiss the fact that ten of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last fourteen years as a statistical anomaly. More accomplished scientists than me could probably argue that warming exists, but it's nothing to be concerned about. But surely even the most ignorant layperson sweltering on the tube today must be muttering, "..this just doesn't feel right."

Anecdotal evidence of a serious problem is everywhere, and as someone who got married on 19 June 2005 (the hottest June day since 1976) I'm more aware of this than most. Whether it was the heatwave killing thousands in Europe in 2003, or Hurricane Katrina wiping out New Orleans, isn't it about time the tabloids stopped publishing photos of babies eating ice-creams or bikini-clad women, and focused on what was really going on and the terrifying implications? (ok, we can leave the bikinis for the timebeing).

Unfortunately I'm currently living in the country which is the CO2 polluter par excellence. There is some evidence that the more enlightened states (not surprisingly the blue Democratic ones) are beginning to offer the tax breaks and other incentives that encourage more energy efficiency. Even George W Bush has been dropping some hints that the US will have to lose its addiction to oil (not easy for a former Governor of Texas). Clearly the US is going to have to take the global lead on the issue, but the implications for their economy are more acute than most given their over-reliance on the car for example, making the balance between growth and the environment more difficult to attain.

I believe in the power of the market to some extent on this issue. Two decades of under-investment in boosting global supply of most commodities (including oil) has led to enormous price increases virtually across the board. With crude oil at $75 per barrel for example, a number of alternative energy options become economically viable whilst consumers are forced to change behaviour (witness the slump in SUV demand in the US, and the ongoing problems at GM and Ford). Unfortunately the powerful car and oil lobby in the US can be counted on to oppose any sort of government-led encouragement of these trends.

I'm relatively optimistic on the ability of world governments to address the problem and propose solutions (in many ways they have no choice). However in the West we may have to break away from our obsession with consumption and rapid economic growth; become a little bit more like France if you will. Perhaps the factor that thus scares me the most in the near-term is the geopolitical tensions that will doubtlessly evolve when the already-developed West tries to preach to the rapidly-developing East about its pollution and tempering its growth, when the problem was never really caused by them to begin with.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I've Started So I'll Finish (the answers)

On Thursday night (Jul 13), BBC's Mastermind will feature a contestant whose specialised subject will be no less than 'Charlton Athletic Football Club.'

I don't intend to crack any jokes like, "I bet he makes more passes than Bryan Hughes last season," but instead I'll whet the appetite by asking ten of my own starter questions.

The winner will receive two tickets to a Crystal Palace game of his or her choice. The runner-up will receive four tickets to a Crystal Palace game of his or her choice (just kidding).

Please feel free to suggest all or any answers by email to - I will reveal the answers and any winners next week.

1. Carl Leaburn once scored a penalty for Charlton to complete an away day hat-trick. Who were the opposition that day and what was the final score? - Ipswich, 5-1

2. What was unusual about the Sep 1985 home game with Crystal Palace (other than the announcement that the club would shortly be leaving the Valley)? - Charlton were awarded three penalties (two were converted by Mark Reid)

3. When Kettering Town allegedly brought 8,000 fans to Selhurst Park in 1989 for an FA Cup tie with Charlton, what was the total attendance? - 16,001 (implying we outnumbered them by fully one fan)

4. Who were the opposition when Charlton played their first 'home game' at Upton Park, and what was the final score? - Newcastle, won 2-1

5. Against which club have Charlton played the most competitive fixtures? - Portsmouth

6. Which oft-forgotten left winger played for Charlton in the 1998 play-off final at Wembley? - Neil Heaney

7. Which Barnsley striker scored a first-half hat-trick against Charlton at the Valley in the 1980s before the Addicks roared back to win 5-3? - Ron Futcher

8. Which is the furthest round Charlton have reached in the League Cup? - the 4th Round (ridiculous I know)

9. Charlton achieved their highest home attendance at Selhurst Park of 28,095 on 23 Jan 1988. Who were the opposition and why were so many people attracted to the fixture? - Liverpool, they had been unbeaten since the start of the season

10. Who was the last player to score the winner for Charlton at Old Trafford? - Mark Stuart, season 1986/87

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

From bank hassle to Hasselbaink?

When I first arrived in the US, I was presented with an interesting dilemma: I needed an address to open a bank account, but I needed a bank account to get an address (because otherwise the landlord wouldn't sign the lease). Anyone who believes in vacuous catchphrases like "The World Is Flat" ought to try persuading a global bank that you really really want to pay them a fortune in charges and interest if only they'd let you (and this in one of the most multinational cities in the world).

And then once you've persuaded them to let you deposit your salary in their bank so they can lend out multiples of it at attractive rates of interest, you'd be amazed at how hard it is to insist that if only they'd let you have some credit you'd be only too delighted to pay them it back in spades. It reminds me of one of my favourite scenes in Fawlty Towers involving Lord Melbury (just substitute '23.4% APR' for 'hundred and sixty' and you'll get my drift):

Melbury: I was wondering... can you cash me a small cheque? I'm playing golf this afternoon.
Basil: Oh, delighted!
Melbury: And I'd rather not go into the town...
Basil: Absolutely... I mean, er, how much?, if it's not a rude question.
Melbury: Er well... er... could you manage... fif... Oh! ...a hundred?
Basil: A... h... hundred? Oh absolutely...Oh yes, I mean, will a hundred be enough? ...I mean a hundred and fifty... two... two... er, a hundred and sixty?
Melbury: ...Let's see, that's, er, dinner tonight... few tips... oh, and it's the weekend, isn't it... is two hundred all right?
Basil: Oh! Oh! Please! Yes! Oh, ha, ha! - oh, tremendous! Oh... I'm so happy! I'll send someone to the town straightaway and have it for you when you get back.
Melbury: Yes, well, that would be splendid.
Basil: Thank you, thank you, your lordship.
Melbury: Thank you so much.
Basil: Oh, not at all, my privilege...What breeding... sheer... ooh!

So it was with some welcome relief that I learnt that I could soon be substituting frustration with bank hassle for excitement from Hasselbaink. As the Kinks might once have said, "It's a mixed up muddled up shook up world."

There seem to be two very important factors that have surely persuaded the club to have allegedly offered him a one-year deal. Firstly he's pretty damned good and with a game based more around strength than raw pace, he'll still have plenty to offer at 34. Second he has one of those tuneful names that I found myself humming long before anything has been signed and sealed. In short, if the Village People didn't write 'Go West' with him in mind, they surely should have done - I just hope Jimmy doesn't take offence that in South-East London, the 'H' will be a soft one.

Finally, the new home shirt was released today and a large one will be heading across the Atlantic as we speak. After last season's priestly tribute to Richard Rufus, the new shirt has a far classier and modern look about it. Indeed the more eagle-eyed fans will have spotted a possible resemblance to the kit we wore (pictured) during our full season at Upton Park in 1991/92. We were expected to struggle that year but finished 7th - positive omens perhaps?

Roll on August 19th.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Time to Make Friends

So it's goodbye to the World Cup, and frankly good riddance. What was billed pre-tournament as the gallery where the finest players would display their art, turned out for the most part to be an overhyped disappointment.

If there is one lasting image of this World Cup, it will inevitably be the sight of Zidane blotting his impressive copybook with a moment of utter madness that may have lost his country the World Cup, such is his ability from the penalty spot.

Reading some of the pre-match blurb, you'd have been forgiven for thinking Zidane could single-handedly end wars, cure hunger and find a cure for AIDS if only he didn't have a final to play that evening. If Wayne Rooney utlimately paid the price for the relentless promotion of his abilities, then surely Zidane did too. After all, it's not for nothing that footballers are described as having their brains in their feet.

Italy won the World Cup, and deservedly so but they're not a team you'd go out of your way to watch. There isn't much point trying to play with an expressive cavalier style when your key striker is the lumbering Luca Toni, and of course great defence is a key part of the game, but surely the World Cup is about flair and panache, not a month of stoic rearguard action.

Argentina had briefly looked like potential winners (and clearly offered the single outstanding highlight of the tournament) but they succumbed to brutal German efficiency, leaving four semi-finalists that were never likely to set the world alight.

Critics of this World Cup don't have to look very far to find some depressing statistics; just 2.25 goals per game, and ridiculously nearly five yellow cards per game, testament to a combination of erratic refereeing and the shameful antics of players who in many cases were good enough to have behaved with more class (Henry, Ronaldo etc..).

Where were the classic games that define a World Cup for years to come? Germany/Italy perhaps; Holland/Portugal if only for the technicolour display from the referee's top pocket; possibly Argentina/Mexico; and erm, that's about it. Not a single group game will live long in the memory, and there wasn't a gallant underdog that the neutral (and not-so-neutral) could get behind, though to be fair Trinidad &Tobago came close.

The African nations again flattered to deceive and now look to hosting the 2010 World Cup wondering if they will ever become a force on the global stage. The two pre-tournament favourites meanwhile (Brazil and England) were so disappointing, it almost beggars belief. The great underperformers, Spain and Holland, did what they always do ie. underperform, despite some flashes of brilliance.

Many passionate fans of club football, myself clearly included, try hard to get as involved emotionally in international football but again I've failed in this endeavour and I genuinely can't blame it upon being based in such a anti-football country. I just feel unfortunately that the World Cup has almost become too big an event for its own good - the national passions it arouses mean there is too much at stake to let football be the true winner. When German commentators talk about the tournament giving an entire country a feeling to be proud again fully 61 years after the end of the War, you sometimes have to remind yourself it's really only a game.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dowie Keeps It Simple with Simon

The club has finally confirmed the signing of Simon Walton from Leeds in a deal worth up to £1million.

There were probably more Charlton fans owning away season tickets last season (32 apparently) than there are fans who know much about Walton, but it's a welcome transfer nonetheless if only in terms of the message it sends about the direction the club is going in.

It's interesting that just a decade ago, Leeds were paying a then record for a teenager by buying Lee Bowyer from Charlton, and now we're snapping up one of their most promising talents. What goes around comes around, eh?

It's probably fair to assume most fans would have preferred our first signing since the World Cup began to be a higher-profile name, but I think the club would be right to try to build a core squad of young English players, whether home-grown or not. In this regard, it was encouraging to learn of Lloyd Sam's new contract too. Indeed, it wouldn't be surprising if the club had been scared off of any 'big-time Charlies' for the timebeing after the Murphy and Jeffers experiences (though at least the club had the last laugh with the former).

Time will tell if Walton's signing is a one-off or signals a genuine attempt to build a young team that can serve us well for years (a strategy that Spurs deployed with success last year, albeit with a larger budget). Unfortunately it would be a higher-risk strategy than perhaps it should be given the paucity of talent that Dowie was left to begin with.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Terrible Lay

The premature death of shamed Enron CEO/Chairman Kenneth Lay has robbed tens of thousands of former Enron employees, pensioners, and shareholders the chance to see justice fully served following surely the most grotesque misuse of corporate power in US history. On 25 May 2006, he was found guilty on ten cases of fraud, and he was expected to have been sentenced to 20 or 30 years in prison later this year.

The Enron story has always fascinated me and thankfully a superb documentary and an even better book provide incredible insights into an ultimately tragic company. It encompasses fine examples of how the US economy and way of life is both at once the best and worst in the world.

Lay was born dirt poor and worked his way up through predecessor companies of Enron, which at the time was a sleepy Houston-based pipeline company. It was (or so it seemed) a classic rags-to-riches story representing the 'American Dream' that so many millions aspire to. Indeed Enron, before it was revealed as a fraud, was seen as representing the very best example of the amazing dynamism of the US economy. Indeed it was voted 'America's Most Innovative Company' six times by the influential Fortune magazine.

Unfortunately Enron also revealed the inherent (yet often hidden) dangers of a society which showers such prestige on wealth and success above all other traits, and one in which corporations and politicians are dangerously entwined. Lay was considered 'asleep at the wheel' rather than inherently fraudulent by many experts on the case, but he loved to wallow in the enhanced social and political standing his lofty position gave him (George W Bush no less referred to him famously as 'Kenny Boy').

The principals of the company simply placed no value on the rights and interests of the various stakeholders in the business from employees to shareholders. Their only concern was meeting the expectations of Wall Street by hook or by crook, thus enabling them to cash out share options and stock at enhanced valuations. They were supported in this endeavour of course by the now defunct audit firm Arthur Andersen whose well-earned global reputation for probity was destroyed by just a handful of Houston-based partners. Right to the bitter end, the directors treated Enron like a personal piggy bank - after declaring the company bankrupt, they flew to New York for legal proceedings in a corporate jet and stayed at the Four Seasons.

Disgracefully the accounting shenanigans were signed off upon for years despite the actual substance of transactions clearly being far removed from the way they were presented (using a technique known as mark-to-market accounting). It is like Charlton selling 10-year season tickets and realising the profit thereon immediately instead of accruing it over the full period.

Lay is now dead of course (and was bankrupt by the end) whilst co-defendant Jeff Skilling faces life behind bars, their lives over or ruined. However some key executives, either by accident or design deserted the sinking ship and took with them hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ill-gotten gains. For example, the former CEO of Enron Energy Services, Lou Pai walked away with $270million and promptly became the 2nd largest landowner in the whole of Colorado.

It is easy to dismiss the Enron case as just being a lot of rich people falling from grace; certainly Lay and Skilling warrant little sympathy. However the size of the Enron collapse and its reverberations need to be put into some perspective.

At its peak in August 2000, Enron's market capitalisation was $66billion ranking it as the 7th largest company in the US. Today, Wal-Mart (owner of Asda, and the world's largest retailer) is the 7th largest company in the country - imagine if all of those giant superstores and 'always low prices' were revealed to have been built on the rocky foundations of decades of accounting fraud. It is perhaps because Enron's clients and customers were largely banks and other energy companies rather than consumers that many felt the fraud didn't concern them (but they were wrong).

Moreover, to put the loss of wealth into perspective, the valuation of Enron collapsed from that peak of $66billion to zero by November 2001. By my estimations, it is as if the entire housing stock of a city the size of Bristol or Sheffield became worthless in the space of a year. It is perhaps testament to the robustness of the US financial system that the direct effects of Enron were relatively well-contained.

The real loser as ever was the 'little man', the loyal low-level employees (many of whom chose ill-advisedly to put much of their pension into Enron stock), retail shareholders and the Houston economy in general that was laid low by the fraud, such was Enron's impact in the country's 4th largest city.

It is ironic that Lay died just a week after one of the country's true great capitalists, and world's 2nd richest man Warren Buffett revealed he intended to donate virtually his entire fortune to the charitable foundation of the richest, Bill Gates. Those who believe strongly in the American way of life and its resultant and unnerving inequality point to its well-earned reputation for private philanthropy as the 'flipside' of this implicit social contract. Unlike Lay, Buffett has been aware of the important role of good fortune in his career (he refers to himself as a member of the 'lucky sperm' club) and the societal responsibilities this bequeaths. Indeed Buffett's children have already been told they will only get "...enough to do anything, but not enough to do nothing." It is in this tricky balance between the vice of greed and the virtue of giving that the US continues to try to build on its unparalleled economic success, aware of course that the next Enron lurks in its shadow.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

We'll Take Good Care of You

....Fly the Flag, Fly the Flag

I found myself humming the tune to that famous 1970s ad for British Airways when I heard this morning about the campaign to raise sufficient money to purchase new giant flags for the Valley next season.

Charlton fans have a proud history of being proactive in this regard, and arguably one of Charlton's two finest US-based bloggers is pleased to have made an early donation and hopefully plenty follow. The atmosphere at the Valley has undoubtedly been flat in the past couple of seasons (not helped to be fair by some of the garbage served up on a regular basis), so anything that may help to address the problem ought to be welcomed. A new central midfielder would help too.

It would be nice to think the club might match any donations made by fans, and I'm sure they will step in to fund any shortfall in the very least. An improved atmosphere could potentially be more beneficial for the club that any number of half-baked ideas which the Board has ploughed funds into (deals with the New Zealand Knights?).

Time will tell whether some of the club's investments will pay off, but it sometimes needs to be remembered that the football club is ultimately about the first team because without a successful first team, all the other plans go out of the window. If a better atmosphere helps the first team to acquire a couple of extra points next season, let's face it, it could be the difference between relegation and staying up.

Angry Young Man

Luke Young has pledged his future to the Addicks after Iain Dowie finally tracked down his phone number ("He was always a player I wanted to keep and I was certainly very proactive about speaking to him about the future as soon as I got the opportunity.")

Anyone that has mislaid a mobile phone will know how much trouble it is to re-input everybody's numbers, so imagine what a pain it must be for football managers that move to a new club. I wonder whether he thought about clicking on 'delete all' but then cheekily retained the numbers of Ben Watson and Gabor Kiraly in case he tries to re-sign them.

SE7 Addick has done a far better job than I could of trying to unravel what might have happened in this whole Luke Young/Tyrone Mears saga, and there is clearly scope for a conspiracy theory.

The thing that concerns me the most is the fact that it took Dowie nearly a month to speak with the club's only remaining England international. Call me old-fashioned, but if you're an employee on perhaps a seven-figure package, then is it unreasonable to answer your phone on holiday? Doing the same for very long as an employee of Goldman Sachs for example is considered misconduct as I understand it (and there's still a few left there on less than £1million per year).

I suspect infact that Young and Dowie probably had plenty of conversations and instead the club is perhaps being economical with the truth. I think they're correct to conduct their transfer negotiations away from the glare of the media and curious fans, but the flipside ensures a hefty dose of cynicism from interested observers.

Pre-season training has either already begun or is about to begin, and a few fans are a little edgy about our lack of new arrivals; put it this way, there won't be any 11-a-side practice matches for the timebeing. However with Young now staying and assuming Gibbs gets fit and is able, then the back five doesn't look in bad shape especially if El Karkouri is persuaded to stay.

The central midfield is clearly the problem area though, hence the ubiquitous Sidwell rumours. If we can find some competition for Kish as the holding midfielder and a poor-man's Scott Parker in front of him, then we may be able to scrape together another midtable season with a bit of luck. Dowie would then have the varied options of the flair-minded triumivrate of Rommedahl/Thomas/Ambrose behind a Bent or two.

Looked at this way, things may not be quite as worrying as they seem since we will no doubt make more than two more signings, though the World Cup has a habit of inflating transfer fees as short-term form is mistaken for true long-term potential (what price Owen Hargreaves today compared to a month ago?). Perhaps then Dowie will be more cavalier about using the likes of Youga, Sam, Sankofa and Gislason? Anyhow, not time to panic just yet.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Independence Day (but from whom?)

As if England limping out of the World Cup was not bad enough, just three days later the world's sole superpower noisily celebrates their independence from us (or Britain to be precise).

Fortunately for us expats currently living in the US, any anti-British sentiment has largely faded away to be replaced with a spectacle that the Yanks are probably the best at, namely a celebration of all that is great about their nation (and there is plenty to be fair).

There has been a sense that the generally good behaviour of England fans at the World Cup has helped to reinstil a distinct 'English identity', and make people proud to display the flag of St George as opposed to the Union Jack (or more likely, no flag at all). Unfortunately it is all bound to increase the confusion of the average American who uses the terms 'England' and 'Britain' interchangeably (and that's before you've explained that Britain and the United Kingdom are different again). In a way it's lucky they're not vitriolic anymore because I'm not sure they'd know any longer who to target their vitriol at.

Personally I'm a little uncomfortable with the whole concept of Englishness, although I admire attempts to try to instil the same sense of national identity that the Welsh and Scots have acquired. It was inevitable that by far the largest and most populated nation in the 'Kingdom' would find its identity diluted, in the same way that you don't see Madrilenos noisily affirming their 'Spanishness' in the midst of separatist movements in Catalonia, the Basque Country and increasingly beyond.

It seems also that we have enough intra-England rivalries to sort out before we can claim a unique identity. Until people stop speaking of a 'North/South divide' or until you can order a pint in a Newcastle pub without being accused of being a 'Cockney b*stard', I'll stick with the all-encompassing British identity thanks very much (and anyhow that's what it says on my passport).

Even the tabloids back home seem to be a little confused about their loyalties. The Sun is not shy about proclaiming its acute sense of 'Englishness' but even they got a little confused on Saturday, declaring that Andrew Murray had "cheered up the nation" after England's defeat on penalties (he was born in Dunblane).

Some English nationalists argue that the Welsh and Scots hate us, so it's about time we returned the compliment. Well for sure, there are probably some ill-educated Welsh and Scots who would proclaim to 'hate us' (no doubt alongwith asylum seekers, gays, black people etc..) but they're like the people who claim to 'hate' supporters of another football team (but actually mean it) ie. to be ridiculed, or preferably incarcerated.

I think Scotland in particular is a beautiful place, I'd like to live there one day. Many of my favourite bands are Welsh or Scottish (Belle & Sebastian, Super Furry Animals, Teenage FanClub, Franz Ferdinand, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci). I hope I don't have to begin 'hating' them too because there'll be nothing left on my Ipod.

Although I suspect I'm in the minority, I still don't fully understand why the possibillity of a United Kingdom football team hasn't been seriously contemplated. If FIFA won't allow it then fair enough, but I for one feel more comfortable supporting say the UK Olympic team than the England football team, again because the whole concept of 'England' means little to me. Although perhaps only Ryan Giggs would have made the squad in Germany, it's difficult to imagine we would have been worse off with him on the left wing than Joe Cole and 'his amazing inability to go outside a defender.' It is also pretty likely that the 'UK' would have qualified for the 1974 and 1978 World Cups if they had been able to call upon the best Scottish talent available at the time (who did qualify of course).

Saturday, July 01, 2006

An Apology

In recent weeks, we may have given the impression that our entire World Cup hopes rested upon Wayne Rooney. Headlines such as, "All Roo Need is Love," "Roo 66," and "Roo Are My Sunshine" may have led some fans to conclude that England would almost certainly win the World Cup.

It is now clear that Rooney is infact a mindless thug. We apologise for any confusion we may have caused.